Northern Berkshire children take a 'challenge by choice' at ROPES summer program


NORTH ADAMS -- Ryleigh McGovern has come to learn the importance of adrenaline.

McGovern, 12, of Adams, referenced the natural hormone when talking about the zipline, one of four challenges at the Northern Berkshire ROPES Summer Program.

"It's the adrenaline that gets you to jump," McGovern said, as a fellow camper stood perched on a wooden platform 50 feet from the ground, about to embark on a 200-foot descent.

This week, 100 local children gathered at the Gerald Downing Ropes Course within Historic Valley Campground for the 18th annual camp.

ROPES (Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-esteem) started from DARE program grant funds in 1996, North Adams Police Lt. David Sacco said. But just as the camp became established, the state grant ended.

"We decided we weren't going to let the program go," he said. "It was too important and the kids loved it too much."

Fundraising efforts and donations keep both sessions every summer free for campers, Sacco said. The funds pay for supplies, licensing, and lunch for campers.

Local law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services and public school employees serve as staff.

In describing the camp's atmosphere, Sacco referred to the phrase "challenge by choice."

"Everyone is encouraged to try as hard as they can," he said. "When they reach what they feel is the best they can do, then there's no pressure to go further if they don't want to."

And for years, organizers have prided themselves for building a supportive, inclusive, and bully-free environment, he said.

The week begins with a series of low-elevation ropes elements, when campers learn rules and get to know the mentors, volunteers and staff.

The week's second half features high-elevation courses, including the zipline.

"By the end of the week, we have parents coming up to us, and they say, ‘Are you sure that was my kid that did that?' That's rewarding for us," Sacco said.

Julia Donati, 12, of Williamstown, was grinning after she completed the Leap of Faith, which involves a safety-harnessed camper climbing 35 feet up a tree to a wooden platform and jumping out to touch a hanging ball.

"I don't really get outside, and this is interesting," she said.

"Before this week, I hated heights," Jaydin Cooper, 11, of Cheshire, said. "I'm okay with them now."

Grace Towler, 11, of North Adams, said her favorite activity was one that acted like a giant swing.

"That was so much fun," she said. "You had the option to go upside down. But I didn't want to."

Volunteers and staff said they have just as much fun at the camp as the kids do -- they have to try each element themselves, and said the energy and sense of a community from the campers are contagious.

"I have a lot more fun doing this because the kids are so into it," Ryan Biros, ROPES and North Adams Public Schools staff member said.

To reach Edward Damon:
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